Infrastructural Indifference
UCLA | AUD | Instr. Jason Payne

The wall... [is] the moment of greatest repose, and at the same time the greatest tension. It is a moment of passage. The wall heightens that sense of passage, and by the same token, its thinness heightens the sense of it being just a momentary condition... what I call the moment of the 'present.'
-John Hejduk, Mask of Medusa

The project for the Sendai coastal plain was, of course, precipitated by its material destruction after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The given brief reflexively requests strategies for the formal and organizational implementation of defensive systems intended to reduce property damage and loss of life from future such events, while also facilitating unforeseen new land uses.

The history of Japanese coastal habitations reveals a pattern of destruction by disaster, grief, reaction, eventual loss of memory, reinhabitation, and new destruction. Now fuelled by the forces of the sprawl emanating from Sendai, we see the reinhabitation of the Sendai coastal plain as inevitable, and indeed, already in progress.

The very request for defensive infrastructure implies that there are forms of habitation on the Sendai coastal plain to defended. It is in these forms that our project takes interest, rather than in their uncritical defense from inundation.

While architecture has proven unable to give form to the forces of urban expansion, here we propose that it take on an infrastructural role by organizing, punctuating and limiting the urbanization of the Sendai plain. But while infrastructure puts rational means in the service of functional ends, we propose an architecture that puts rational means in the service of the dysfunctional desire to inhabit a territory of proven danger. Whereas infrastructure is mechanical, architecture is human; we transform the former’s inherent attitude of indifference into the powerful affect of a laconicity of countenance.

The project proposes three interventions: 1) an organizational strategy for the ongoing urbanization of the Sendai plane that creates the uniform landscape of difference required by the logic of urbanization; 2) a dialectical array of identical escape-tower monuments that organize the differentiated space of urbanization through repetition and abstraction; and 3) an inhabitable wall that limits to the Sendai’s exurban expansion by creating a space for the occupation of the edge of the city.

1) Management
While the Cartesian grid is the essential formula for extension and management, the more contemporary 'field' is here employed to reposition its fundamental disciplinary role as a system of management, not form. Its managerial qualities, from an urban perspective, help produce and provoke qualities that are here taken to be beneficial to the condition of urbanism; namely, plurality, irregularity, the opportunity for invention and arbitrage, and spatial variety.

2) Monument
Like the cupola'd domes of the Roman skyline that order the urbanization of that city, the repetitive form is here engaged to order the inevitable infill propelled by urbanizing forces. In contrast to the extensive grid, the cube is employed as the most primitive condition of discrete form; dimensionally resolved, its geometric definition and therefore legibility is disrupted by any dimensional change (leading from cube to bar, tower, mat, slab, etc., all readings of which have greater attendant associations of architectural form). In having the fewest associations, it is therefore susceptible to the greatest range of signification. The production of sameness creates a powerful dialectical relationship between the production of difference required by the forces of urbanization and exacerbated by their organizational field.

3) Limit
Finally, a the form of a slender wall is proposed as a consummation of the urban logic of expansion at the scale of the individual. The wall, in its function as a limit, ensures that its inhabitants are perpetually at the edge of the city, facing the object of their desire (the image of nature) while participating in the life of the city behind. From the west, the façade of the wall is blank and undifferentiated, acting as a backdrop to the developing city rather than as a monument in itself. Its only formal characteristic is its varying height along its length, which acts as a register of the demand for the inhabitation of the limit of the city.